LNG disputes letter; Sierra Club received anonymous missive on June 6

An anonymous letter sent to the Sierra Club by a purported company insider charges that NextDecade Corporation, the Houston-based firm behind the proposed Rio Grande LNG project at the Port of Brownsville, has been misrepresenting to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission how much liquefied natural gas it intends to produce and export.

NextDecade characterized the letter’s statements as misleading and “categorically false.”

The letter, received June 6 by Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews, claims the company has planned since at least 2017 to use trains (liquefaction facilities) that each would produce more than 5.5 million tons of LNG per year. Multiplied by the six trains Rio Grande LNG would feature at full build-out, this capacity would equal 32 to 35 million tons per year, according to the letter.

In its original 2016 application to FERC for permission to build the plant, NextDecade said it planned to produce and export a maximum of 27 million tons of LNG per year from six trains each capable of producing about 4.5 million tons per year.

In a May 28 press release from NextDecade announcing signed contracts with the Bechtel Corporation for engineering, procurement and construction of Rio Grande LNG, NextDecade estimates the capacity of each train at up to 5.87 million tons per year.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups seized on this apparent discrepancy to file a “Request for Supplemental EIS to Address Full Scope of Planned Exports” with FERC on the grounds that a Final Environmental Impact Statement issued for the project by FERC on April 26 was based on maximum per-train capacity of 4.5 million tons per year, nowhere close to 5.87 million tons per year.

The Sierra Club filing also referenced an investor presentation by NextDecade in May that estimated average per-train production of at least 5.5 million tons per year.

The anonymous letter claims that NextDecade employees were directed by senior management not to make the information public “for fear that FERC would require NextDecade to submit a new revised application based on the revised plans,” and that the company “cannot afford the delay that would be caused by such a refiling.”

In a June 3 response to the Sierra Club’s request to FERC for a supplemental EIS, NextDecade wrote that the train technology the company chose in 2015 and 2016 for Rio Grande LNG has evolved and is now capable of producing more LNG. However, that does not mean the company intends to exceed the 27 million tons per year stipulated in its original FERC application, it said.

The project developers “at this time do not intend to exceed the aggregate 27 (million tons pre annum) that FERC has spent the last four years reviewing and analyzing,” NextDecade wrote in its response. To suggest that the project has changed from what was originally filed with FERC “is untrue and a bare attempt to delay” the regulatory review, according to the company.

In a July 1 emailed statement to The Brownsville Herald, NextDecade spokesman Patrick Hughes said “statements made in the (anonymous) letter are misleading, categorically false and the Company’s position has been clearly stated in its response to the Sierra Club previously filed at FERC on June 3, 2019.”

In filing the anonymous letter with FERC on June 21, the Sierra Club said it did so on the advice of FERC’s Office of Enforcement but “makes no representation as to the truth of the allegations contained therein.”